For its next act in making its services more accessible and relevant to Indians, Google announced a fleet of improvements today that it hopes will fix two big challenges among Indians slow internet connections and language barrier.
These improvements are part of companys Next Billion push through which it aims to connect Indias remaining population to the internet.
The vast majority of Indians dont speak English, and for an American company that creates a unique set of problems. But Google is actively adding local languages support to its services to increase their reach. John Giannandrea, Senior Vice-President for Search at Google, demonstrated how its search service can not only understand text in a variety of Indian languages such as Tamil and Marathi, but also people can make voice searches in Hindi.
Google added that its recently released AI-driven Allo app will get support for Hindi, one of Indias most spoken languages, later this year.
Our goal has not just been to help more Indians get online, but also to help Indians create the online experience they want; one that serves their needs and enables them to have an impact on the entire world,” said Caesar Sengupta, Google’s Vice-President for Next Billion Users.
“So we have been thinking about how to build products and services for this wave of new users products that work for any level of connectivity, in local Indian languages, and across the devices that are most frequently used in India, he added.
Google also announced a new YouTube app, called YouTube Go which is designed especially for Indian customers. Among other features, the app offers users with the ability to share downloaded YouTube videos with each other even when they dont have a working data connectivity. The app uses Wi-Fi Direct to transfer videos to others.
On YouTube Go, users also get a “super low bandwidth” preview of videos they want to download. The company says it is also sharing more information on how much data a video consumes, so that people can make more informed decisions.
Living with slow internet
Another major issue crippling India currently is poor connectivity. Even in cities it can be challenging at times to get a reliable data connection. Google has put a lot of thought into this issue, and several of its services such as Maps and YouTube already offer offline support, letting people download content when they are on a good Wi-Fi network. The company is expanding these features to Google Play and Search apps as well.
Google says that it is experimenting with a new version of Google Play exclusively in India. The feature, which goes live today, will preload most popular parts of Androids marquee store when a user is on a Wi-Fi network, so that when they try downloading a popular app, the process is more seamless.
Google’s Data Saver in Chrome for Android helps Indians save over 330TB of data every week.
Theres another feature in Google Play called “Wait for Wi-Fi,” which as the name suggests ensures that you download apps only when you are on a Wi-Fi network. Google Search will pull off a similar trick. When on a slow network, it will remember the things you looked for, and will notify you with results when the phone is connected to the internet again.
The company also announced major improvements in its Data Saver feature for Chrome mobile browser. A beta version of the app, available starting today, can now even compress video content and save up to 90 percent of the data usage. The company added that it has also improved the download feature of the app, which now offers resume capability and picks up from where it left in an event of network outage. Google claims that it helps save Indians more than 330TB of data every week.
But the biggest announcement the company made today was Google Station, which aims to provide fast public Wi-Fi networks at places with high footfalls. Google says it developed Stations after the success of its free Wi-Fi services at over 50 railway stations in India, which is currently being accessed by over 3.5 million users every month. The company claims over 15,000 Indians experience internet for the first time using its free Wi-Fi service.
Google’s push to get more people on the internet comes at a time when its global rival Facebook is also increasingly trying to convince Indians to get online. Though unlike Facebook’s Free Basics, which was rejected by India earlier this year citing net neutrality concerns, Indians can’t seem to get enough of Google’s free Wi-Fi services. Free Basics offered users free access to a set of websites and services, whereas Google offers users access to every website. “Our mission is to get free and open internet to every Indian,” Sengupta reaffirmed today.
The world’s second most populous nation India remains one of the biggest growth regions for companies such as Google and Facebook. Of the 1.3 billion people who live in India, only about 300 million people are connected to the internet. It’s the biggest untapped market for technology companies.